Raise More Money From Businesses with Donation Boxes


Donation boxes - also called coin canisters - are one of the simplest and cheapest ways to raise money from businesses. The action happens at the register after customers buy something and they drop a few coins, or a buck or two, into a donation box. Sometimes the cashier gives the shopper a nudge - "We're raising money to help the troops" - but often not. That's why I call it passive cause marketing.

A lot of nonprofits have written off donation boxes as a lousy way to raise money from businesses. As one nonprofit executive explained to me: "They don't raise a lot of money and they're just kind of a hassle. Coins are heavy!"

I have to agree on the latter. I remember loading so many coins into my trunk I thought my back bumper would scrape the pavement. But I've raised a lot of money from donation boxes. I bet you can too - if you pick the right business and correctly execute the program.

One nonprofit that's doing just that is the USO. I met two employees from this great organization, which has been serving our troops for 70 years, at Cause Marketing Forum in May and followed up with a phone call last week to get a few more details on their successes. Thanks to Gayle Fishel, Cathy Martens and Margie Kirst for their time!

The USO has raised millions with donation boxes. Here's what they and I have learned.

Target busy stores. Like pinups, the busier the business the more money you'll raise. It's a numbers game in that your odds improve as you see more people. Sure, you can put a donation box in a tailor's shop. But how many customers does a tailor see each day? Not as many as a supermarket, coffee shop, or bakery sees. The USO knows this firsthand as a key partner for their donation boxes is Kangaroo Express convenience stores. These busy stores have over 1,600 location in 13 states.

Cash is king. A while back a car dealership called me about doing donation boxes. I told them to think of something else. How many people are buying cars with cash, much less quarters, nickels and dimes? Target businesses where people pay with cash. It's not surprising that my most successful coin canister program was with a bagel shop. People would buy a bagel and coffee for a few bucks and drop their change in the donation box.

No tips allowed. Tip jars are popular at many businesses. But your coin canister won't be if you try to replace the tip jar or include it on the counter. Employees count on these tips. I once asked a Starbucks barista how much they made from the tip jar every week: $50 per person. That's a nice little bonus for someone making eight bucks an hour. If you include your canister alongside the tip jar it won't be there for long.

Front and center. I've seen donation boxes in the most bizarre locations, including one in the men's bathroom at a store. It certainly got my attention! But the best place for a donation box is right in front of the cash register. I like to say, "Don't give people an excuse to say no." A donation box anywhere except in front of the register is just begging to be ignored. There are other ways to put your donation box front and center. The USO and Kangaroo Express turned their program into a real event. Patriotic show cars visited stores and customers showed their appreciation for troops with recorded messages aired on the Salute Our Troops website.

Security is key. Theft is a big problem with donation boxes, especially with the small, round canisters with the slot in the top. It's demoralizing to the business and the nonprofit when they get swiped. My partner, Finagle a Bagel, stopped theft by investing in heavy-duy donation boxes that were locked and bolted to the counter. But this isn't economical if you have a business partner such as Kangaroo Express with hundreds of stores. You'll have to invest in something cheaper, but whatever you choose, security should be a priority. Kangaroo Express asks its employees to empty the canisters daily.

Donation boxes are an easy business fundraiser that involves little heavy lifting - until you have to pick up all the coins. Have you tried donation boxes before? Did you have a good or bad experience?

Bagel Bakery's Cause Marketing is Book Worthy

Finagle Bakery & Cafe is a doing a nice thing this week for Joanna and me, and a great thing for Boston's Museum of Science.

All this week Finagle Bakery & Cafe is donating $1 to the Museum of Science for every additional Like it gets on their Facebook page and for every retweet the promotion gets on Twitter up to $1,000.

The Musuem of Science is one of Boston's favorite family attractions. With over 1.5 million visitors each year it's second only to the Red Sox!

The nice thing for Joanna and me is that Finagle owners Laura Trust and Alan Litchman are doing this cause marketing promotion in celebration of the release of Cause Marketing for Dummies.

We're really flattered!

This promotion between Finagle and the Museum of Science is a great example of the local cause marketing we talk so much about in Cause Marketing for Dummies. And Finagle--with eight locations in the Boston market--is no stranger to it. They've worked with Children's Hospital Boston and Boston Medical Center on other promotions.

We talk a lot about Finagle in our book as a model example of how small businesses can work with local causes, and earn a much deserved halo for their efforts!

Foursquare Cause Marketing Starts with Loyalty Programs

Last month during a visit to a Finagle-A-Bagel store in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts to pick up a check for $25,000 from the Finagle team and their owner, Laura Trust, we got talking about social media, specifically, location-based services. Finagle was intrigued with Foursquare and how they could use the service to connect with and reward customers at their nine area stores.

The challenge was Finagle's traditional loyalty program, the Frequent Finagler, which was expensive and it wasn't social. They were eager to replace it with something better.

With just a bit of guidance from me, Finagle developed a new program that they are testing in a couple stores. Social media, and especially Foursquare, is suddenly central to their loyalty strategy. And while it required extra work to get the program up and running, expenses beyond printing the signage for the stores has been minimal.

You may be asking, "Well, that's great, Joe. You sold them on Foursquare and helped them get a program up and running. But there's no mention of cause marketing or even your cause. How do you benefit?"

  1. My efforts help me build a stronger tie with a key partner by demonstrating my commitment to our mutual success.
  2. Finagle's new social media platform gives me a potential lab to experiment with location-based cause marketing. A lot of causes want to try social cause marketing, but adoption of some of these services, especially LBS, is very low with many small businesses. Causes need to be more proactive about educating businesses on these new tools and thus creating more initiatives for themselves.
  3. Working with Finagle gives me a case study on the opportunity of mobile loyalty programs that I can shop to other businesses. Right now I can use Finagle as an example of a business that saw the value of Foursquare when it came to savings thousands of dollars on a traditional loyalty program. Shortly, I hope to add that the change was successful and that customers are using Foursquare to reap their loyalty rewards.

Have you come up short pitching small businesses on cause marketing? Take a step back and start a dialogue about location-based services and how they could save thousands of dollars on a traditional loyalty program and make it social.

Forget hope of gain or profit. Focus on being useful. Give of yourself freely. Your loss just might be your much greater gain.

Bagel Bakery Makes Cause Marketing a Priority

In all the years I've been doing cause marketing Finagle-A-Bagel is one my favorite partners. They don't raise the most money. Not even close. They can't boast the hippest programs. They raise most of their money through simple coin canisters at their registers.

But the qualities they share with our best partners are irreplaceable: dedication and persistence.

We started working with Finagle-A-Bagel, a nine store bakery and cafe best known for its delicious bagels, a few years ago when they supported Halloween Town and sold pinups in their stores.

Next, they developed and sold a travel coffee mug with a percentage going to pediatric programs at the hospital.

Then, eighteen months ago, they began a coin canister program in their stores that had customers donating their loose change to the hospital.

No one was quite sure how generous consumers would be and how much we would raise.

Last Friday I picked up a check for $25,000 from Finagle. Its owners, Laura Trust and Alan Litchman, couldn't be more happy with the results.

Laura and Alan are super people and Finagle could work with any cause they want in Boston. They get calls from other charities every week asking to meet with them. But they choose to work with us. And for that we are very thankful.

Their bagels are filling the holes in our kids' lives.